Janaki Express train was standing for an inordinate time at Muktapur railway station. Summer vacation had started with schools being closed. Girdhari asked in a voice full of boredom, Sakri kab aayega (When will we reach Sakri) ? Bhaiya (elder brother) replied in equally bored voice, Abhi toh Samastipur se nikle he hain. Kuch khaaoge (We are barely out of Samastipur. Wanna eat something) ? Girdhari smiled, Sakri mein (I will, in Sakri). The steam engine spewed lots of black plume of smoke, hissed angrily like a dragon, whistled twice and began moving slowly out of the station. The train engine’s sound was remembered not just by Girdhari but by everybody those days, Chhakad Chhak – Chhuk, Chhuk, Chhakad Chhak – Chhuk, Chhuk. Train finally reached Sakri junction.
Girdhari found Sakri magical. It conjured up image of spellbinding allure for everybody. Sakri was famous for two things. First, it’s mouth watering Kachri – Aaloo Chop combo of snacks. And second was that of Janki Express splitting into two trains. First five coaches of Janki Express were named Sakri – Jaynagar Express. Last five coaches belonged to Sakri – Nirmali Express. Bhaiya and Girdhari were seated in the 9th coach en route to Jhanjharpur. Girdhari finished the snacks quickly, drank water to his heart’s content. In Jhanjharpur R.S. (railway station) market, Bhaiya stopped a Taanga. Girdhari sat in the front. He could watch the mango orchards on both sides of the road and both the horses’ movement as well. All the mango trees were laden heavily with the king of fruits. Girdhari’s heart started beating faster. They were approaching the wonderland called Simra.
Vardhan, Appu and Neeraj ran towards the Taanga. Appu started patting the horse. Neeraj started clapping out of excitement while Vardhan was looking closely at Girdhari. All the cousins were around 8-9 years old. Vardhan dashed quickly to touch Bhaiya’s feet. Appu and Neeraj followed suit. Bhaiya looked sternly at Appu and said, padhna likhna saadhe baayis, kya ji Appu (no studying but playing all the time, Appu). Appu shivered in fear. They entered their Angna (a combined unit of four ancestral houses). Girdhari touched Dad, Mom and Didi’s (elder sister) feet. He washed his feet and reached Siraagu Ghar (the room for the divine deity). He kept a coin in front of the deity, Maa Bhairavi, closed his eyes and prayed. One by one Girdhari reached the other three houses of his Angna to touch all the elders’ feet. As soon as he came out of the fourth house, he found them waiting. Appu, Neeraj and Vardhan sprinted towards their Pokhar (pond owned by their family). All four of them stood at the corner, observing the Pokhar closely. The water level was down in the summer. Now, Girdhari was looking at the ancient Jaayith (high wooden pole in the centre of the pond) with four metallic birds rotating in circular motion on its top. They were waiting in anticipation. Girdhari said, Poorba bahaye chhaye (eastern wind is blowing) ! And Neeraj, Vardhan and Appu started laughing, as never before, on that hot May evening. It was an annual ritual with them. Girdhari had difficulty sleeping in the night in the Dalaan (Angnaa’s outhouse for guests and visitors), waiting eagerly for the dawn.
In the morning, a visit to a mango orchard was due. Girdhari and his gang reached Pokhari Mahaar (bank of the pond). They plucked some twigs from a Babool (Gum Arabic) tree and bang started the community Daatun (brushing of teeth). They reached Labgochli mango orchard. The Bagwaar (caretaker of the orchard) offered them some cleaned, raw Fazli mangoes. He offered to cut the mangoes into pieces but Neeraj did the honours himself with a knife. These mango pieces were raw and unripened but they tasted sweet, nonetheless. The gang was now joined by Diggu, Raja, Udho and Nanhe from other Angnaas. One by one, they ran and jumped into the Pokhar. They were busy swimming and frolicking in the cool waters, losing sense of time. Bhaiya threatened them when they grudgingly came out of the water. It was breakfast time now. Kaaki (paternal aunt) served Diggu, Vardhan, Raja and Neeraj, Choora – Aam – Achaar (flattened rice with mango pulp and pickles) in a big brass plate. Appu, Nanhe, Udho and Girdhari attcked Roti – Doodh – Aam (wheat Chapaties soaked in mango pulp and milk) served in a big brass plate. A Bamboo basket full of ripe Maldah mangoes was kept next to them.
Girdhari and his boisterous gang of cousins got bored of reading old copies of kiddie magazines, Paraag, Nandan, Lot Pot, Champak, Baal Bharati, Chanda Mama and biographies of revolutionaries when they heard commotion inside. The girl gang of Minni, Leena, Shaivya, Julie, Bela and Ruchi were playing a game near Madba (a four pillored roofed structure meant for wedding and Puja). Appu, Neeraj, Girdhari and Vardhan joined their cousins in the game. They were playing while singing,
Daakiye ne kya kiya,
Sau rupaye ki ghadi churaayi,
Ab toh jail mein jaana padega.
(What crime has the postman committed ? He has stolen a watch worth one hundred rupees. And now, poor fella has to do time in prison.) The players took a break in the evening, to take a quick bite of Choora Bhoonja and Ghughni (famous Bihari snacks). As they were catching up with each other, they heard the loud sound of the gong. The boys quickly washed their hands and mouths and ran towards the Radha-Krishna temple. They boys had a sort of competition to play the Gharighant (big gong bell) while the Pujariji (temple priest) was playing the ghanti (handbell) and doing the Aarti (worshipping the deities).
Girdhari had no idea that a month had passed. He went to attend a wedding in Darima village and ended up staying for weeks in the house of his Mausi (mother’s sister) there. From Darima, a trip to his Maatrik (Mama/mother’s brother), Kamalpur was due. As it was, both the Mamas doted on Girdhari. Plus Kamalpur had several attractions ; Dhaar (small river), Gaachi (mango orchards), Haat (temporary rural market) and Manmohan bridge. Girdhari was always reluctant to return to his city. The return journey was painful and heart breaking. He wondered why couldn’t he stay back in Simra, forever.
Girdhari was sitting in his city school’s classroom. Kaun jawaab dega (who has got the answer), thundered Banmali Sir. Girdhari stood up and started confidently explaining how the great Maratha king, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj escaped from his house arrest in Agra. The whole class burst out laughing. Girdhari stopped to catch breath. Banmali Sir was watching him while the whole class was rolling in laughter. Was Girdhari wrong with his interpolation, no, certainly not. He began explaining again. This time Banmali Sir starting swaying with laughter on his chair. Girdhari was silent while looking miserable. Banmali Sir said while barely controlling his laughter, kya re Girdhari, tum jawaab Maithili Bhasha mein de raha hai, Hindi mein nahin (Hey Girdhari boy, why are you giving your answer in Maithili language instead of Hindi) ! Saare vidyarthi summer vacation mana ke July mein class me aa gaye. Aur tumhara Simra Vacation, har saal, September mein khatm hota hai (All the students resumed their classes in July after their summer vacation got over. And your Simra vacation gets over only in September, year after year) ! Girdhari smiled organically. Aah, the memories from his wonderland. Simra always brought smile back on his face.